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Effective employee absence management should be a core concern of every human resources (HR) department. Scheduled and unscheduled absences alike can severely impact your organization’s productivity and your bottom line.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average absence rate in the U.S. is 3.2%. That might not sound like a high number, but it means that on any given day, 3.2% of the U.S. workforce is absent from work. 

Looking at figures like that, it’s clear to see taking steps to manage leave and reduce unnecessary absences is important.

We’re going to take a look at the ins and outs of employee absence management, and how you can get it right in your business.

What is employee absence management?

Employee absence management refers to the processes involved in overseeing and managing employee absences from work. It involves tracking, monitoring, and effectively managing the instances when employees are not present at work, whether it’s due to illness, vacation, personal leave, or any other reason.

The ultimate goal of employee absence management is to guarantee that the impacts of absences are minimized and that productivity is maintained. To achieve this, absence management typically involves establishing a set of policies and procedures for reporting absences, tracking attendance, and requesting leave. 

Effective absence management will often involve software or tools that can track and manage absences. By effectively managing employee absences, organizations can reduce their impact, improve employee morale, and guarantee compliance with company policies and labor laws regarding leave and attendance.

Different types of employee absence

To know how to carry out effective employee absence management, we first need to know about the different types of absences that can occur. 

Scheduled

Scheduled absences are any type of employee absences that a worker has agreed in advance with their line manager or HR department.

Common examples of scheduled absences include:

  • Vacation leave
  • Personal days; e.g. for funerals, christenings, etc.
  • Parental leave; e.g. maternity, paternity, or adoption leave
  • Training or educational leave
  • Bereavement leave; taken after the death of a close family member

Because scheduled absences are known about in advance, organizations can plan around them. This means altering workforce schedules and allocating resources accordingly. HR teams can often refer to clearly defined leave policies when managing these kinds of absences, guaranteeing minimal disruption to business operations.

Unscheduled

Unscheduled absences, on the other hand, are instances of unexpected or unplanned leave taken without prior warning. They’ll usually be the result of unforeseen circumstances. Reasons for unscheduled employee absence in 2023 were wide-ranging.

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Common causes of unscheduled absences include:

  • Unplanned sickness
  • Family emergencies, e.g. illness of a child or other dependent
  • Transportation issues, e.g. car breakdowns, canceled trains, etc.
  • Unexpected severe weather, e.g. snowstorm
  • Work-related stress or mental health days

These absences can often catch organizations off-guard, and require some pre-planned procedures to maintain a level of business continuity. HR professionals and line managers need to have contingency plans in place for when unscheduled absences occur. 

Leave for Legal Reasons

Many countries have laws in place that entitle employees to leave in certain circumstances. Some of the kinds of leave we’ve discussed already would fall into this category, such as maternity, paternity, or adoption leave.

Other examples do exist, including:

  • Military service leave
  • Jury duty leave
  • Witness leave, i.e. the employee is required to testify during legal proceedings.

These kinds of leave must be handled sensitively and supportively, considering the impact they may have on the employee.

The costs of employee absence

Organizations that aren’t prepared to deal with employee absence can experience all manner of negative consequences.

Lower productivity

Employee absence can disrupt workflow and productivity. This especially becomes a problem when workers in key roles are absent. In the worst-case scenario, the work may remain unfinished until the absent employee returns. This can lead to missed deadlines or reduced quality of work.

Higher costs

Absences can result in increased costs for your business. You might have to hire temporary replacements or pay overtime to cover the workload. Otherwise, you can risk losing revenue if critical tasks can’t be finished by their deadline.

Poor employee morale

Employee absence often results in an increased workload for the other employees who are still at work. Colleagues will often need to take on additional tasks or responsibilities to cover for the absent employee. This can lead to decreased morale or burnout among the remaining team. 

Best practices in employee absence management

It’s important to practice good employee absence management to reduce the negative impacts we’ve just examined. Here are a few best practices you can implement in your organization to make sure employee absence is handled fairly and effectively.

Use the right software and tools

Using software and tools will help you track and manage employee absences. 

A centralized system will help you track employee attendance and absence data. This will allow you to identify trends and patterns and address any recurring problems. 

The importance of this is exemplified by the surge in the global absence and leave management software market.

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Time and expense management software for small business is a great example of a tool that can help with this. 

These platforms can help your organization automate your time management processes, reducing payroll inaccuracies and helping to mitigate the risks of burnout in overworked employees.

Another example would be absence-tracking software. These platforms grant you access to detailed reports that’ll help you track absenteeism and identify issues regarding repeat absences.

Strategies for reducing employee absence

By limiting the number of unscheduled absences as much as possible, you can reduce the impact they’ll have on your other employees, your customers and clients, and your business as a whole.

Organizations have used a wide range of initiatives to try and reduce employee absence rates.

Implement comprehensive absence policies and procedures

Clear and well-communicated absence policies and procedures are essential when it comes to managing employee leave. Employees with a good understanding of your leave policies are much less likely to try and take time off at short notice and leave you in the lurch.

These policies should include details on the different types of leave available, the criteria required to request them, and the procedures involved with filing a request. It’s especially important to include guidelines on how much notice is required to request leave and the appropriate channels for doing so.

Introduce flexible working arrangements

Offering flexible working arrangements, such as remote work or flexible schedules, allows employees to manage their workload in a way that suits them and their requirements. This can often allow them to deal with personal or unforeseen situations without initiating unplanned absences.

Promote employee health and well-being

A healthy work environment can play a crucial role in reducing employee absence. Employees who are physically and mentally healthy are much less likely to require time off for sickness or mental health-related issues.

Providing wellness initiatives is one approach that many organizations take. Fitness classes, mental health support systems, and stress management workshops can all help employees maintain their well-being, reducing the risk of illness-related absences.

It’s also important to encourage a healthy work-life balance for your employees. This can be achieved through initiatives such as flexible work schedules and healthy amounts of paid time off. This can contribute to improved employee satisfaction and reduced burnout.

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Strategies for limiting the impact of employee absence

No matter what steps you take to reduce the number of employee absences in your organization, some degree of absence is unavoidable. Thankfully, there are strategies you can implement to help you reduce the impact of employee absence when it does occur.

Multi-skilling

Training employees in a variety of job roles, i.e., cross-skilling and upskilling, gives you greater flexibility when it comes to covering absences. This allows you to pull in employees from other teams or departments to plug gaps in the workforce. 

The more candidates you can draw from when covering absence, the more likely it is that you can maintain productivity without burning out your team members.

Forward planning

Try to include contingency plans during project management whenever possible. This will help make sure that potential absences are accounted for and addressed in advance.

It’s especially important to consider the financial impacts of absence when planning projects. You can use tools such as software for cash flow management to help with this. Being able to access real-time data and reports concerning your cash flow will help you to make data-driven decisions on how to cover absences based on the impact they’re likely to have on your bottom line.

Employee scheduling software is another useful tool that helps you make sure that you’ve got the right people in the right places at the right time. This can help alleviate the headache of covering scheduled absences from holidays or parental leave.

Encouraging a positive workplace culture

Fostering a positive and supportive work culture encourages employees to engage in open communication regarding absences. This can allow you to work with employees to find alternative solutions to a problem that may lead to absence, or at the very least, give you more time to cover the absence. 

Programs such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and remote work schemes can help here. Not only can remote work programs reduce the likelihood of employee absenteeism, they can help to cut costs across the board.

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Level up your employee absence management

Implementing effective employee absence management is crucial for fostering a productive, supportive, and resilient workplace. 

Clear absence policies and procedures help everybody to stay on the same page regarding scheduled and unscheduled time off, while encouraging transparent communication and leveraging supportive strategies helps you to reduce the likelihood of avoidable absences impacting your business.

Centralized attendance tracking systems can offer insights into absence trends, empowering you to take proactive actions to address underlying issues. Flexible work arrangements and comprehensive return-to-work programs facilitate a smoother transition for employees returning from leave.

Ultimately, an effective absence management strategy goes beyond simply tracking and penalizing absence. It should represent a commitment to understanding and accommodating the diverse needs of employees, promoting a healthy work-life balance, and fostering a culture where employees feel valued and supported.